It is fair to recognize the good that the religious adherents do again. After all, my forefathers came to this country to experience and escape religious persecution of Europe. Religious America has allowed many sorts of views of religion to live in a relatively peaceful manor. The Puritans, Quakers, Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, Protestants, Lutheran, Anglicans, Jewish, Friends and many others religions were here in the beginning and due to the pluralistic society the Founding Fathers insisted that not one religion over an other be supported or preferred. This lead to the drafting and ratification of Article I of the Bill of Rights. This also gave the different religions a peaceful co-existence.
If the religious adherents in American wanted to say that The United States was founded by a religious people I would agree with them. But I hear over and over again that America was founded as a religious nation and that is just plain wrong. When the adherents hear this they tend to think that what is being put forth to there idea is that the Founding Fathers were not religious at all. This is not now or ever has been the case by any non-adherent that I have talked to. As an atheist I am more than willing to recognize that many of our Founding Fathers were involved in religion in various degrees. But to say that any of this was to lead to the country being founded as a Christian nation is to set up a false causation. It is more accurate that the nation was founded by religious pluralists and they wanted the freedom to be what their conscience demanded of them concerning faith issues. Not a nation requiring a religious test for public office or trust or to establish or prohibit the right to practice any form of belief even if that belief is not belief at all. Freedom of religion is a right secured in the Bill of Rights for the individual and it is not a place for the secular government to be involved in.
Each denomination was left up to their own devises to recruit adherents. So they began developing organizations to help with community needs such as feeding the poor, disseminating news to the congregation, starting hospitals and schools, caring for the cemeteries, and other community services. Ultimately the idea was to grow the flock. However one denomination had the strange idea that it's follower shouldn't marry or have children. This odd group is called the Shakers. Needless to say they are almost all gone if not gone already.
So there have been many secular positive results of religion in the community. It is part of the discipleship idea of Christianity. It would be hard to find a hospital in the first 150 years of the country that was not somehow associated with a denomination. Plus out on the American prairie, and the west of the United States the Catholic Church was the first to make schools in many small communities that otherwise couldn't afford them. Even Today many secular hospitals started out as missions of a religious organization.
The price a community pays for these positive examples of the good religion does can be high. Let's look at a few.
• Feeding the poor
Sounds like a real stand up idea. Even Jesus liked that one. But what is the price? Well for the most part these people are forced to endure the additional humiliation of being told that they are sinners in need of God's love and compassion. Any person attending those place are well aware of the problems in their life and do not need to have a sermon or even a prayer for the meal they have humbly come to receive. I have myself gave money to a person that was in need and when they say, “God bless you” I say, “No need. I am an atheists. I gave this to you because I care about people not religion.” I have no problem if you have cards or a sign up sheet for them to ask for help. That would be up to them as long as it was not coerced.
• Religious Hospitals
It is a good thing that the denomination would put their time and money into caring for the people of the community. Having a friendly local doctor that you know has a eternal view like you must surely be reassuring. But what if that doctor knows that the treatment is more difficult than it is worth for you to recover? He has the assurance that you will be in an eternal peaceful place anyway. Plus, the family and church could pray for a miracle. What about what your illness may be viewed as sickness from sin? Such as venereal diseases. Or if a woman needs to have an abortion. Will they allow her the choice or will dogma intervene?
• Religious Schools
I think I can clearly show an relationship between the madrasah of the radical Islamist and the faith based schools in America. I want to point out that I know that the word madrasha is a word for school of teaching so I am not talking about the ones of moderate or reasonable programs for education. This may seem like a reach but anyone that has seen the movie Jesus Camp would know what I mean. I am not saying that they are teaching them to shoot and attack others of different beliefs but the radicalism is just as fervent. It is easy for a child to believe the crazy dogma of an adult because that is how we are programed to learn. This is where adults of seeming reasonable behavior think the Earth is 6000 to 10000 years old instead of 4.0 to 4.5byo. I am not saying that every religious school is indoctrinating the students to be mind numb and brainwashed but even in the more moderate ones they insist that the child adhere to a religious world view in all areas of study.
For the people that push these types of conversions on children it is truly child abuse and coercion. What would a reasonable person say to a child that claimed that they are a firefighter, policeman a doctor, astronaut? I know what they say, because it is what I would say, Isn't that cute. They aspire to an idea of something they have no idea what it is. Reasonably we wouldn't think they had any idea about what they were talking about nor would anyone in need of those service act as if that child had any way of acting as a person in those professions. Today it makes the news if a child is able to call 911 in an emergency regardless of how often it is taught and impressed upon children to do that in an emergency. So when something as simple as calling 911 is such a big deal for a child, how much more skeptical should we as adults be that a child has any clue about what being saved means at that age. But of course the adherents believe that the Holy Spirit can convince a child of the “truth” of the scriptures. Likewise, the constant referral to Santa Claus can convince a child that a fat Dane in a white and red suit is going to bring them gifts based upon some goodness scale he has, to determine the level of good and bad they have been in the past 365 days.
When I was in high school I attended a Catholic High school for several weeks before I got kicked out for alleged marijuana use or drinking or both. Someone decided that I would be a good scapegoat as I was not a Catholic. I was a Lutheran at this Catholic school one of a few non-Catholic students to attend. After that fiasco, I went to a Seventh Day Adventist school where my behavior was, of course, better but my grades were not. But at both places I had the opportunity to be an outsider of a group of adherents. But regardless the influence of the dogma of the church was present throughout the day. I really had a time with my questions in the religion class. The Father that taught it would get frustrated with me to no end. Oddly enough the teacher of the science class was very good and it was a much better Biology class then the one at the SDA school were the influence of God in science was pushed just a bit too hard. With only a 6 month exposure to religious schooling I saw the futility of trying to get the students to follow a dogma that only was set in place to control behavior and promote itself. Luckily, even those students that had gone to religious school all their life still had a free mind and not all bought into the beliefs lock stock and barrel. But I am sure if I was to meet some of them Today, that range of freedom would be gone.
It is not an understatement that churches provide a platform for people that would otherwise have nothing to say a platform for them to “shout it from the rooftop.” A man or woman can find a place of honor in a church and soon find themselves ordained in some churches. Some denominations simply requires the “Lord” to show his “spirit” on their work. I am sure many of you know about the Universal Light Church. You can become a minister just by signing up on line at their website. [Go ahead I'll wait.] It is about that easy to have it done too.
The same laws that legally let ULC give out ordinations is the same one that lets any denomination give them out. So in many of these churches there is a shortcut to the top. Why bother with the 2 to 4 years of seminary or Bible college when you can just be ordained right away? Show your able to motivate the masses and you will soon be moving up in the “Jesus club”. People like Ken Ham, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyers, and many others just simply “answered” the Lord's calling on their life and began preaching. I am not saying they haven't had any additional education but the idea is that they follow the “leading” of the Lord to tell then what to do. Now they make millions on the backs of the people that they preach too. It is like what L. Ron Hubbard is credited with saying, If you want to make a lot of money start a religion.
I have thought about how easy it would be for me to “reconvert” and use my experiences to fleece the flock. It seems no matter how much you lie or cheat the children of God you can always come back and ask for forgiveness and begin taking their money once more.
Needless to say even the denominations that have difference among themselves in Christianity make up a powerful force in the United States. But it is the vocal churches that get the attention of the national media and the politicians when it comes times to get elected. It makes good television to have a radical view from either a liberal or a conservative though most Americans may have little to say about a particular issue.
While many of the more liberal or mainstream denominations are either shrinking or maintaining the status quo of followers, the fundamentalist and radical churches are on the rise with growing memberships. But hope is still alive. According to a recent PEW research study that the only group to grow in America in the past 15 years have been the section of non-adherents or non-believing. Interesting enough if it was a single church denomination then it would be the largest in America behind Catholics.
Coming Next Time:
Chapter Eight; HUMANIST POINT OF VIEW part-thirty